Good quality above ground swimming pools can easily last for ten plus years. They can look bad by being rusty, discolored, off level, and out of shape, but still stay up and work well as a pool.
The number one reason an above ground pool has to be replaced is when the wall of the pool corrodes or rusts through. This is where a stainless steel service panel comes into play.
A stainless steel service panel for an above ground pool is an approx. four-foot removable section of the wall where the skimmer and return openings are, and is made of stainless steel material.
WHAT IS A SERVICE PANEL FOR AN ABOVE GROUND SWIMMING POOL?
Above ground pools can have three kinds of walls. There is the soft-sided pool you pay just a few hundred dollars for. Usually buy at Wal-Mart which has walls made of a synthetic canvass material. These are very cheaply made, throw away pools that usually last a season or two. They can’t have a service panel.
Then there is the high-end extruded aluminum above ground pools that are designed to go partially in the ground. These are maybe the opposite of the Wal-mart soft-sided pool. These pools are uncommon, cost thousands, and are made to last for decades. They don’t need a service panel.
In the middle of the above extremes are the traditional metal-walled above ground pools. These pools are lasting, economical, and what is considered the “normal” or traditional above ground swimming pool.
So, this common above ground pool has a metal wall made from a continuous roll. This means the wall is one long piece that you roll out and fit into place into a bottom track. This continuous roll wall is thin and made out of either steel or aluminum. Both metals can corrode or rust.
A service panel is a section of the wall of the pool where the skimmer and return fitting attaches to the pool. It is bolted from top to bottom to both ends of the continuous roll metal wall of the pool.
Because this four-foot-long piece of wall is bolted to the rest of the continuous roll, it is designed to be replaced in case it gets rusty.
WHY HAVE A SERVICE PANEL FOR AN ABOVE GROUND SWIMMING POOL?
Unless modified, there are only two openings in the wall of an above ground pool. Those two openings are the skimmer and return, and they are next to each other. In any kind of pool, be it concrete, fiberglass, or vinyl, the openings are where the leaks most likely happen.
The most common area an above ground pool leaks is at one of these two openings in the wall. And if the leak goes unfixed, the wall will corrode or rust to the point where it can’t hold the water in and the pool will burst open and die.
Now, if this common leak area (where the skimmer and return are located) of the wall is removable and replaceable, then if there is rust, only that area can be replaced instead of the entire wall. This is why it is called a “service panel”. Because it can be serviced or replaced.
MY BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SERVICE PANEL
I can’t recall the exact year I first saw a service panel. It was more than twenty-five years ago. I was installing pools mainly for a company called Recreational Factory Warehouse and sold mostly pools made by Wilbar. To my knowledge, Wilbar was the first to come out with the service panel.
As an installer back then, I didn’t like the service panel. This was only because it added an extra step to installing the pool wall. A service panel has to be bolted to the rest of the one-piece wall of the pool, so that took an extra 5-10 minutes.
Those first service panels were awesome though. They were all longer and made of very thick stainless steel. I occasionally have come across one of these early service panels, and they are still in perfect condition.
This was one of the best ideas for above ground pools ever brought to reality. After seeing so many pools die prematurely because the wall rusted out underneath the skimmer or return. By having that part of the wall made of a material that would never rust through was pure genius.
A decade or so later, I started seeing service panels made out of aluminum instead of stainless steel. This was because the cost of stainless steel is considerably more than anything else. This was also stupid as thin aluminum will corrode just a fast as a regular steel wall, so it wasn’t gaining anything.
In the last ten years, I’ve seen a lot of service panels made out of the same exact material as the rest of the pool’s wall. This is almost a complete waste of time. Why? Because service panels aren’t very replaceable.
SERVICE PANELS ARE NOT EASILY REPLACEABLE, IF AT ALL
So, now we currently have pools with service panels made of materials that can rust out or corrode to the point where they will split. That wouldn’t matter as much if the panels were easily replaced, but they aren’t.
“In the 34 years of installing and servicing above ground pools, I have never successfully replaced a service panel”
Service panels are usually not replaceable. The main reason for this is it can be impossible to remove the existing bolts that attach it to the rest of the wall. Wall bolts are usually not made of stainless steel. This means that in the short span of a couple of years, the non-stainless steel bolts and nuts (used mainly in Wilbar pools) will not come apart. And cutting them off can easily result in damaging the wall of the pool.
Also, depending on the age of the pool’s service panel, it could be a different length. And to replace a service panel, you need the exact replacement. A longer or shorter, or one with a different bolt pattern will not work.
THIS IS WHY A SERVICE PANEL IS ALMOST USELESS UNLESS IT’S MADE OF STAINLESS STEEL
Since chances are you won’t be able to replace a service panel, it needs to be made of a material where it will never need to be replaced. Stainless steel is the only material that will never rust through.
IF BUYING AN ABOVE GROUND SWIMMING POOL WITH A SERVICE PANEL, MAKE SURE IT’S MADE OF STAINLESS STEEL
This isn’t to drive a point home here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve installed a pool with a service panel that wasn’t made of stainless and the pool owner thought it was. Make sure the description says “stainless steel” for the service panel.
A great example of this is Pinch-A-Penny. Pinch-A-Penny stores sell a great Wilbar pool with great equipment. And their upgraded model has a service panel, but it’s made with the same steel as the rest of the wall.
Now, I’ve got nothing against Pinch-a-Penny, however, on many occasions, the pool owner thought the panel they bought was made of stainless steel. And it wasn’t.
You pay more for your pool because it has a service panel. If it’s not made of stainless steel, then you’re paying extra for nothing.
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND A STAINLESS STEEL SERVICE PANEL
When buying an above ground swimming pool, there are a few options available to make it better or last longer. And out of those things, my opinion is that the stainless steel service panel option is the best money you can spend.
With a stainless panel, you don’t have to worry about your pool bursting open because there’s been a leak at the skimmer or return fitting. You should, of course, get any leak fixed as soon as possible. Often times though, people will have a small leak at the skimmer or return on the inside of the wall and not know it.
With a stainless steel panel, it can leak there for years and all that will happen is the stainless will turn a white color. It will never rust through though.
RANDOM NOTE: If you have a stainless steel service panel are are wanting to add and extra return jet, do not try to cut the hole for the new jet in the stainless wall panel. It is not easy to make a hole in stainless steel. Make your hole in the regular part of the wall next to the panel instead.